COLUMBUS, OH – FEBRUARY 26: Matt Duchene #95 of the Columbus Blue Jackets lines up for a face off during the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on February 26, 2019 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

It was disclosed by Darren Dreger on TSN Insider Trading that signing Matt Duchene is the Arizona Coyotes primary focus in the upcoming free agency period. If Duchene doesn’t re-sign with the Columbus Blue Jackets before July 1st, there will be a number of teams interested in his services.

Arizona Coyotes general manager John Chayka loves centres. This is really not a surprise. The Arizona franchise hasn’t had a number one centre for years and will be investigating what they can do to entice Duchene to come to the desert.

Of course, per Dreger, the Columbus Blue Jackets are still very much in the hunt to retain Duchene. Teams such as the Nashville Predators and Montreal Canadiens have been seen as frontrunners according to Elliotte Friedmann. It could all come down to money (as it usually does) and what he will be offered on the open market. He knows for instance that the Buffalo Sabres just signed Jeff Skinner to a lucrative eight-year, $72 million pact.

Will Duchene demand similar money? He could. He’s coming off a very productive season where he finished with a career-high 31 goals and 70 points. He didn’t slow down in the postseason. He collected five goals and five assists to help the Blue Jackets sweep the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round. His double-overtime powerplay winning goal against the Boston Bruins in Game 2 shows he is a proven clutch scorer.

What Matt Duchene Can do for the Arizona Coyotes

Needless to state, the Coyotes desperately need scoring. They landed with the fifth-worst offence in the league with just 213 goals in 82 games. Duchene averages 0.75 points per game and has a career 12.9 percent shooting accuracy to demonstrate his effectiveness as a scorer.

The issue at hand would be the Coyotes are already loaded at the centre position unless Chayka plans to make some trades we don’t know about yet. With Derek Stepan, Nick Schmaltz, Brad Richardson, Christian Dvorak, and Vinnie Hinostroza all fighting for centre ice time, who moves in order for Duchene to fit into the group?

Something would need to change because Duchene is definitely your first-line centre hands down. Schmaltz would be an excellent second-line centre with Stepan grabbing the third line duty. Then the fourth-line assignment would remain for Dvorak, Richardson, and Hinostroza to battle it out. As previously stated, Chayka loves centres.

Signing Matt Duchene Would Require Some Cap Space Adjustments

Based on a projected $83 million salary cap, the Coyotes will have a bit over $14 million in cap space this summer. While CapFriendly shows the team at just under $9 million, they can free up an additional $5.275 million by placing the Marian Hossa contract on long-term injured reserve.

The team currently has four restricted free agents in Nick Cousins, Josh Archibald, Lawson Crouse, and Ilya Lyubushkin. There are three unrestricted free agents in Richard Panik, Mario Kempe, and Calvin Pickard.

Of that group, they will probably only retain Archibald, Cousins, Lyubuskin, and Crouse. The rest will walk or be traded.

So, the money to offer Duchene the $8-9 million contract he will demand can be made to happen. The only other question (and it’s a huge question) is will he want to come to Arizona?

Does Duchene Fit the Coyotes Style of Play?

The team just missed the playoffs and he really does fit the game plan that head coach Rick Tocchet uses. Duchene would be excellent if on a line with Clayton Keller and Alex Galchenyuk. Of course, Keller has been beyond expectations when matched with Schmaltz. It gives the team some offensive flexibility they haven’t had in the past.

Duchene has good speed and is excellent in front of the net to put rebounds past the opposing goalie. Adding Duchene would definitely show the fanbase in Arizona that this team is serious about qualifying for the playoffs. It may also quelch the constant rumours of relocation to places like Houston.

And as Dreger mentioned in the TSN Insider video, the new ownership coming in should also help the team to afford a top-flite free agent like Matt Duchene.

With the team moving over to the tougher Central Division in the 2020-21 season adding a star player like Duchene would only solidify their standing in the league.

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